Guide to Petra, the Pink City of the Middle East. Here’s the things to see in the ancient capital of the Nabateans.
Jordan, cradle of civilisations and religions, crossroads between Asia, Africa, and Europe, land of deserts among the most suggestive in the world. Human history begins right here, in the Azraq desert in the east of the country, where our ancestors lived 250,000 years ago. On the rocks of the desert, ancient petroglyphs testify to the passage of mercantile caravans and nomadic peoples including the Nabataeans who, in the 6th century BC, gave birth to a city of enormous proportions, entirely excavated in the rock: Petra. The pink city of the Middle East, UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
For centuries Petra has seen the passage of great civilisations, from the Greeks to the Romans, then Assyrians, Babylonians, Crusaders, and Turks. The Roman Empire expanded the city with amphitheaters, imperial tombs, churches, and columned streets, but it also marked its end. As often happens to the glorious cities of the past, Petra dropped in a sudden and inexorable decline. The city lost control over the trade routes and with them, it also lost power. Isolated and hit by natural catastrophes, the pink city was abandoned, but not entirely forgotten. The Bedouins kept the legend alive and their stories reached the ears of the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. In 1812 Burckhardt set out to search for Petra and, disguised as a pilgrim and guided by the Bedouins, found the ruins.
But what is left of this ancient civilisation and how long does it take to visit the archaeological site? The Pink City is much more than its famous facade – the Treasure – and we will tell you everything about it in our guide to Petra (includes the most Instagrammable viewpoints!).
Guide to Petra: what to see
To reach Petra you must cross the Siq, a narrow and tortuous gorge that will take your breath away with its colourful rock, the aura of mystery, and the feeling of being swallowed by the walls that fit together almost perfectly above you. A deep rift in the Earth, but also a sacred place that leads the visitor to the ruins of eight hundred monuments carved out of the rock, five hundred of which are tombs.
Walking among high reliefs and votive temples you will finally catch the first glimpse of the most representative facade of Petra: the Treasury, also known as El Khasneh al Faroun – the Treasury of the Pharaoh. According to an ancient legend, in fact, the rocky urn located in the center of the facade hid a treasure. Nothing in the world can prepare you for its beauty nor for the magic that you will feel looking at it.
What looks like a majestic palace is, in fact, a 40 meter high Nabataean funerary temple. Stunned by such beauty, you will find yourselves surrounded by camels, souvenirs and the real inhabitants of these mountains, the Bedouins. The men have dark eyes marked with black kajal and they all look like Johnny Depp in The Pirates of the Caribbean. They will try to sell you a camel ride or to take you to a shortcut that – starting on the left side of The Treasury – takes you to a viewpoint where you can take the famous Instagram photo with the famous facade below you. The truth is that it is impossible to climb that mountain without the Beduins and without paying the 5 JOD. At the top, a bar sells cardamom coffee and mint tea. The lookout is set up with fur and Bedouin carpets. The view is beautiful, but not the best. Save money!
What most of the guides to Petra don’t say is that there are three itineraries leading to different viewpoints of The Treasury. With the facade in front of you, look to the right and you will see a collapsed wall (don’t worry, it’s safe to climb) that will take in less than 5 minutes to the most beautiful viewpoint of Petra. A third viewpoint can be reached following a longer path. The starting point is located beside the Royal Tombs.
The visit of Petra continues to the amphitheatre that could once host 8 thousand people! A little further you will find the Royal Tombs and the colonnaded Roman road that leads to the Trajan gate and to the beginning of the long path taking to the Monastery. A climb of 800 steps (about 45 minutes), remunerated by the view of the facade at the top of the path.
How much does it cost to visit Petra?
The archaeological site of Petra is really big and even if you visit it from dawn to dusk one day just isn’t enough. Another good reason to stay longer is the cost of the ticket:
50 JOD for a day;
55 JOD for two days;
60 JOD for three days.
If you plan to stay at least three nights in Jordan, you can save money by purchasing the Jordan Pass which includes entry to 410 sites, including Petra, and the Visa to enter the country (40 JOD). There are three types of Jordan Pass – Jordan Wanderer, Jordan Explorer, and Jordan Expert and must be purchased at least four days before the arrival in Jordan. All the info at this link.
Read more on our post: JORDAN AND ISRAEL IN 7 DAYS. TRAVEL ITINERARY
How to reach Petra, Jordan
Petra is located 250 km south of the Jordanian capital, Amman. It can be reached by following the King’s Highway to the town of Wadi Musa. Then continue on foot crossing the Siq, for centuries the main access route to the city. Every minute of this journey is worth the effort: there is no other place like this in the entire world.
When and how to plan a visit to Petra, Jordan
The ideal times of year to visit Petra are spring and autumn. We chose the first week of May and we found beautiful sunny days, temperatures of 27° during the day, and a lot of evening thermal excursion. It is also important to know while organizing a visit to Petra., that you will understand the real size of the lost city only by visiting it. A tip: half-day tour is not enough to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the modern world. A full day from dawn to sunset might be enough but keep in mind that in Petra you will walk a lot, there are many steps and the temperatures are very high (40° or more in summer).